The Wind from a Burning Woman

НазваниеThe Wind from a Burning Woman
Дата конвертации27.10.2012
Размер2.63 Mb.
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part of the glue that binds us together is the delicious sensation of having shared in

the violation of cultural standards--violations allowed in the name of love, commitment,

total sharing. The couple stands outside the rules, bound by its own sense of

specialness, and exclusivity. It discovers sex all over again, secure in the knowledge

of its daring creativity.

Jealousy arises at the contemplation of a partner engaging in sexual acts outside this

protecting envelope. Sex with others, outside the couple, emotionally charged and

A,,I- I1,,

,-I ,,n,

n 'n r!efrnv thi ilhinn of shared and creative violation of

/ SLANT 41

Reality intrudes: these acts are common, not special; they are natural, no matter how

forbidden; the illusions that strengthened the commitment are suddenly revealed. The

jealous partner feels duped, misled, unfairly coerced into an emotional bond based

on romantic delusions.

Trivial, perhaps; but from these passions have come murder, the end of kingdoms,

brand new branches in the river of history. Never underestimate the ubiquitous power

of sex.

The Kiss of X, Alive Contains a Lie



Mary Choy, at thirty-five, has been a PD for thirteen years--ten in Los Angeles,

the last three in Seattle. As far as she is concerned, her work is the most

important factor in her life; but that focus may be changing. So much about

her is changing.

She reads from her pad--pure text--as she finishes a lunch of cheese and

fruit in a small ninties-style cafe on North Promenade, in the shadow of the

Bellevue Towers.

Even her appearance is in flux. Since 2044, she has been a transform,

increasing her height by a foot, customizing her bone structure and facial

features, and turning her skin to satin ebony. But she is now reversing

much of this transform. Her skin is slowly demelanizing to light nut brown;

for now, she is mahogany. The satiny texture remains, but will in a few months

dull to ordinary skin matte. She retains her height, but her facial features

are flattening, becoming more those of her birth self. She never liked

the looks she was born with, but since her mind has undergone

changes--difficMties she calls them--she feels it is only right to assume a less

striking appearance.

Also, in Seattle, while open tolerance of transforms is mandated by federal

and state law, there is an undercurrent of disapproval. And Seattle has been

her home for three years, ever since her fall from high natural tatus to simple

untherapied... The lapse of her brain's loci, the proportionil reshifting of

personality, sub-personalities, agents, organons, and talents...

The end of her brief marriage to artist E. Hassida...

The pass-overs for promotion in the LAPD...

Her resignation and transfer to Seattle Public Defense...

The two-day-old breakup with her most recent boyfriend.

Usually, thinking about all the changes darks her, but this afternoon she is


blue-gray Towers, the southernmost of the Eastside equivalents to the elongated

ribbon combs that dominate central Seattle.

After lunch, she will walk to a PD conference in Tillicum Tower on West

Eighth, where she will present a speech on Corridor Public Defense Cooperation.

She has been asked to handle inter-departmental relations until she is

rated for full Third, which she is assured will happen any day now. Seattle PD

is so much more casual about high natural vs. natural or untherapied, though

if anything even less tolerant of high thymic or pathic imbalance.

Reading for pleasure is a luxury she's come to enjoy in the past few years--though

the lit she's perusing now affords her a few too many uncomfortable

insights to be purely pleasurable.

An arbeiter politely inquires if she is done with her repast. She hands the

tray to the machine and reaches for her bag when her personal pad, still on the

table, chimes.

She has a few minutes. She answers the touch.

"Mary? This is Hans."

Mary stiffens. The face in the pad screen is handsome, boyish but not foolish;

a face that held her interest for three months. And still attracts. It was Hans

who inexplicably chilled and told her it was over, it wasn't working.

"Hello, Hans," she says with forced casualness.

"I wanted to explain some things."

"I don't need explanations, Hans."

"I do. I've been feeling pretty rotten lately."

Mary passes on this opportunity.

"I liked you better the way you were. That's what... I've decided. I didn't

want you to change."

"Oh." She's going to let him do the talking; that's obviously why he's called.

"You were beautiful. Really exotic. I don't know why you want to change."

"I see where it can get confusing," she says. "I'm sorry."

Hans flashes. "Who are you, Mary, goddammit?"

"I'm the same as I was, Hans."

"But who in hell is that?"

Good question. For a time, she had hoped Hans might be able to help her

discover the answer, but no; Hans is hooked on appearances. He liked her the

way she was.

"I mean," he says, "I don't know you at all. I've been thinking about what

it must be like to become.., what you are, and then to go back."

"You mean, what it says about me, personally."

"Who does that sort of thing? I've been sad the past few days, missing you."


"But that person, that woman, isn't around. You're different from the person

I miss."

"Oh," Mary says.



"No. Probably not." Her tone is professionally sympathetic. She refuses to

give him any more, show him anything deep.

"Who are you, Mary Choy?"

Her jaw muscles tense. She touches her cheek, pokes hard with a fingernail

to prod a little relaxation. "I'm a hard-working woman with very little time

to think about such things, Hans. I do what I think is best. I'm sorry you

couldn't stay on for the ride."

"No," Hans says, quieter now. "You bucked me right off, Ms. Bronco."

"You knew what was happening. I started my reversal before I met you."

"I know," Hans says, deflated completely. "I just wanted to say goodbye

and let you know that I'm suffering, at least a little. I wish I could understand."

"Thank you, Hans." She stares steadily at the pad's camera eye, giving

nothing, hating him. Then, something makes her say, "If it's any consolation,

I miss you, too."

It's time for her to leave to make her appointment. Still, she lets the camera

observe, sitting in her chair with the pad unfolded on the table, a real paper

napkin still tucked under one corner. Mary remembers the atavistic rough

absorption of the napkin, and the feel of Hans's lips on her own, a little dry,

like the napkin, but strong and hungry.

Hans looks down, lifts one hand, stares at the fingers nervously. "What are

you doing now?"

Mary sees no reason not to tell him. "I'm having lunch in a restaurant," she

says. "I'm going to give a talk soon."

"PD stuff?"

"Yes. I'm reading while I eat."

"Lit? A book?"

"Yes." They had that much in common, an enjoyment of reading.

"Which?" --"Alive

Contains a Lie," she says.

"Ah. The book for bitter lovers."

"It's a little more than that," she says, though in truth that's what made

her access it.

"Mary. I don't want you to..."

Hans stops there, mouth open, but does not seem to know what more to


"Good-bye," he says.

Mary nods. The touch ends and she closes her pad more forcefully than is


The air itself seems freer and more natural to her; today it is crisp but not

below freezing, and looking south down the wide crossing thoroughfare between

the Cascade and Tillicum towers, she can see Mount Rainier, like a



The light on the street pounds irly sparkles and the mufflered puffy-coated pedestrians

walk briskly with hands in pockets. Very few of them are obvious

transforms. To Mary, this is all the more interesting, because the Corridor--and

particularly Seattle--has assumed a leadership position over the past fifty

years in the Rim and mid-continent economy. In Japan or Taiwan, fully half

the Affected--those who are politically active, who bother to work and vote

and believe they can change things, and who are tied in to temp agencies and

employed in the hot and open marketplace--are transforms. In Los Angeles,

nearly a third... And in San Francisco, almost two thirds.

Here, a mere five percent.

She reaches the gaping entrance of the Tillicum Tower. Winds swirl and

Mary clutches her small gray hat as she passes into the orange and yellow and

jungled warmth of the tower court. Several sunlike globes hang over the broad

indoor plaza. Tailored birds twitter and screech in the massive tropical trees

that entwine the inner buttresses. She might be in a corporate vision of Amazon

heaven, with glassed-in rivers to right and left, graceful plant-cabled bridges

arching between the floors overhead, and everywhere the adwalls targeting their

paid consumers, their messages barely aglimmer on the edge of Mary's senses.

She has never subscribed to adwalls, considers their presence an invitation to

subtle slavery to those economic forces she has long since learned never to trust.

The paid consumers, however, thrive, feel connected, bathed in information

about everything they can imagine. They stand transfixed as new ads lock on

and deluge them.

Mary guesses at what one couple is experiencing, in the shadow of a huge

spreading banyan. They are in their mid-twenties, pure comb sweethearts,

contracted for pre-nups but definitely not life bonders, playing for the moment

while they take LitVid eds and gain status with their temp agency. Both are

likely clients to the same organization--Workers Inc, she judges from the cut

of their frills. They are being hit by sophisticated material, dense and frenetic,

catering to all the accepted vividities--sex within relationships, domesticity,

corporate adventure, insider thrills. These they will admit to enjoying, and

discuss, in public. The male of the pair, Mary specks, will secretly tune in to

the massive TouchFlow SexYule celebration next week--and the female will

likely stew in whole-life hormoaners for hours each day.

Yox siphons twenty percent of the total economy, even here in her beloved

Corridor. LitVid (more often in the last few years divided into Lit and Vid),

older and more traditional, takes a mere and declining seventeen.

She is up a helix lift, the broad steps resembling solid marble but reshaping

with the fluidity of water; she climbs through the quaint delights of the farmers'

market on 4, spiraling up through the stacked circular substructures of

the clubs and social circles of 5 and 6, above the tallest trees of the courtyard,

and all around, coming in dizzying sweeps, the hundred-acre open spaces of

the comb--a lake to the north, where children boat and swim, and adolescents

/ SLANT 45

V[ry admires the architecture and feels her familiar protective warmth for

the comb players, but she is not of them; she was not born of them, would

not be considered acceptable social or sexual fodder, and is even handicapped

by being new in the Corridor.

That is the Corridor's greatest failing: a deep and abiding suspicion of the

outsiders who come to live and work here. This is not racism or even classism;

it is pure provincialism, remarkable where so much data and rney flows.

The helix takes her above the open spaces, and she is within the inmost

heart of the tower. Free community art here dances from the walls, lively and

colorful, conservative enough that it appeals to Mary. Collages of flight, birds

and free-form aerodynes, and on the opposite side, hundreds of smiling faces

of children, all surrounding an astonishingly moving ideal of a Mother, with

eyes half-closed in tender motherly ecstasy...

She remembers E. Hassida's portraits of women, equally moving but in

different ways.

Glassed-in floors pass, pierced by interior residential blocks, the cheapest of

a very expensive selection, like milky rhomboid crystals glued to the walls of

the shafts and sinks.

Higher still, the civic function spaces and blocks take up the eastern flank

of the tower at the two hundred meter level. She debarks from the helix and

inspects herself in a gleaming porphyry column. The curve of the column

makes Mary appear even taller and thinner than she actually is, but her clothing

has kept itself in order, unwrinkled and fitted.

She is about to enter the PD block when her neck hair bristles and she turns

at the presence of a man a few feet behind her. She must appear startled and

apprehensive, for Full First Ernie Nussbaum, chief investigator for her division,

makes n apologetic face and holds up his hands.

"Sorry, Choy!" he says as she takes a long step ahead.

Mary shakes her head, forces a smile. "Sorry, sir. You surprised me."

"I didn't mean to invade your space."

"My mind was elsewhere," Mary says. "What can I do for you, sir?"

"I'm on a jiltz and I thought you'd be useful. It's not far from here, in this


"I have a meeting," she says, pointing to the translucent entrance of the

civic hall.

"I've reassigned that duty. I had hoped to catch you here.., outside."

"An active jiltz, sir? I didn't think I rated such confidence yet."

"You've donetoo many jiltzes in your career to be left cold so long. LA is

a tough town."

"Thanks," Mary says. She feels a sudden quickening of confidence; Nussbaum

is not known to be a softy, yet he has singled her out for a criminal


She falls in step with Nussbaum, gives him a side glance. He is not tall,


His eyes are his best feature, meltingly brown and sensitive, but his mouth is

straight and broad and comically serious, like Buster Keaton's. The combination
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